Shogun 2: Fall of the Samurai: ten tips to help you take Japan

Tom Senior

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Total War Shogun 2 Fall of the Samurai - ten top tips from ten long spears

Standalone Total War expansion, Fall of the Samurai, is out, and it's really rather good. You can find out exactly why in our Shogun 2: Fall of the Samurai review . You'll be fighting for tradition and the Samurai way on the Shogun's side, or battling to restore the Emperor to supremacy, but carving out your empire in the midst of a civil war isn't an easy task. The standalone expansion adds 39 new units, three new agents and a bunch of new boats. There's a new tech tree, railways and dramatic new weapons like naval artillery and gatling guns to get to grips with.

There's so much to do. Where should a new general start? Who should you kill first? Which are better, swords or guns? Is Sun Tzu's Art of War actually useful? (yes, if you're monitor's a bit low down, plonk it on top of the ancient tome, voila). Here are ten top tips to help you take back Japan.

Set up trade routes quickly

Building an empire is expensive. Never mind the cost of training troops and building boats, it's the upkeep that you need to worry about. Soldiers are always hungry and boats have a habit of breaking. That'll cost you a set amount of gold every turn. In Total War, quick money is hard to come by. You can take an enemy town and sack it for all it's worth, or just set up a trade route.

Doing a deal with another clan will instantly secure you a boost to your income every turn, but the number of trade agreements you can set up is limited by the number of ports you control. Your first step should be to send out a small fleet to skirt the shores of Japan. Whenever you catch a glimpse of an undiscovered faction, you'll be able to set up a meeting straight away and start negotiations.

In Fall of the Samurai, your relationships with other clans will be affected by your allegiance with the progressive Emperor or the traditionalist Shogun. If a clan's on the other side, they won't like you very much. That's why it's best to discover as many factions as possible as quickly as possible. The deals you do should be limited by the number of ports you have, not the number of factions you can talk to.

It's worth keeping an eye on which resources are in demand. If you see one selling for a good price, upgrade the mines and mills that generate that resource to boost that vital trade income.

Use artillery always

Ships can now bombard cities, mines, farms, railway stations and even armies from the safety of the sea. If one of your armies enter battle within a friendly fleet's circle of influence on the campaign map, you'll be able to call down artillery to smash your enemies on the battlefield. This is an extremely powerful ability that you'll want to use constantly throughout your Fall of the Samurai campaign.

On the strategic campaign map, you should use fleets to strike at unguarded resource buildings scattered throughout enemy provinces. You can hammer farms and mines into disrepair, damaging your opponent's economy. They'll have to spend some gold to get those buildings repaired as well, making shoreline bombardments a great way to soften up a province for invasion.

Naval artillery can be even more useful in battle. As long as the fight is initiated within the circular range indicator of your fleet on the campaign map, you'll be able to call down a couple of devastating bombardments during the real time battle. You can choose a focused bombardment, which is useful if you're going for a high-risk strike on a vital enemy unit (the one that carries their general, for example), but you'll probably do better with the less accurate strike. This will spread out the incoming shells, delivering less destruction over a wider area, but more disruption to the enemy line.

A well timed strike can obliterate enemy armies in tight rank and file formation. If you're lucky, your strike will result in plenty of casualties, but even if you don't score a direct hit, the force of the impacts will send soldiers flying. This can scatter your foe's formation and open up gaps in their gunlines. Once you've called in the big guns, there's a bit of a wait before it arrives. Getting barrages on target can take a bit of practice. If you master artillery, you've added a devastating weapon to your arsenal.

Build boats. Lots of boats

Naval artillery is an important weapon, but your fleets have an even more vital task. You must protect your trade ports at all costs. At high tech levels, you can upgrade those ports to international trade centres. These bring in immense riches and give you the opportunity to recruit troops from overseas. If your enemy blockades a port, it'll cost you thousands in gold and you'll lose those recruitment options.

Don't let that happen. A fleet can travel a long way in a turn, which means they can protect wide stretches of coastline from would-be pirates. It's worth keeping a few souped up fleets as high-impact defensive armadas designed to crush raiding parties. Likewise, send out small squadrons yourself to harass enemy resource points and raid trade routes. Maintaining all these ships will be expensive, but it's worth it.

Once you've researched the tech, it's worth upgrading your port defences. This will install a series of huge cannon emplacements around your shipping centres that will automatically lay damage on any enemy fleets within range. You'll even be able to see these tiny cannon emplacements firing away on the strategic campaign map.

Mind the seasons

Each turn in Fall of the Samurai reflects just a few weeks of time. In previous Total War games, clicking the End Turn button could move the game ahead an entire season. This has some knock on effects that you'll want to keep in mind as you plan your conquest of Japan.

Winters last a lot longer. If you leave armies out in the field during the winter months, a number of soldiers each turn will freeze to death or desert. As it can take many turns to train replacements, you'll want to keep these casualties to a minimum by planning around the winter months. When you plot an army's route on the campaign map, you'll be able to tell how long it'll take them to reach their target from the number of times the arrow changes colour along the journey. Making a note of this will help you avoid stranding your armies in the cold.

That means the winter months are good for up your forces and planning your attack. When the snows thaw, start the war.

Manage the pace of change

Moving down the new tech tree in Fall of the Samurai can be a dangerous business. You gain new advances by increasing your faction's overall modernisation score. You do this by building modern buildings, researching certain civic techs and training advanced troops. Their are several tiers of modernisation to unlock, and each time you cross into a new tier, the chances of a samurai rebellion increase.

As you start to head into that final tier it's a good idea to pull some troops off the front lines to garrison some of your central towns. When the samurai rebel, they really go for it. Large armies of them will pop up in the middle of the countryside in your weakest lands. They'll make a beeline for the city of that province, trashing your mines, farms and taverns as they go. Build structures that increase repression to stop this from happening, and keep your forts well stocked with troops. Their mere presence will discourage disgruntled warriors from turning their blades against you.

Be aggressive with your allies

Just because you're allied with a faction doesn't mean you're not in competition with them. There are a lot of factions fighting over a limited amount of territory in Fall of the Samurai and you'll have to be boisterous if you want to take more cities than your nearby friends. Securing lots of territory early on can solve problems later in the campaign when the only territory you can feasibly take belongs to an ally.

Betraying a faction you have a long term relationship with will have a negative effect on all of your negotiations. Word travels quickly, and the other faction leaders will quickly get wind of your backstabbing behaviour and trust you less as a result. Damaged relationships have a direct impact on the amount of profit you make from trade, which makes all-out war with friends a bad option.

There are sneakier alternatives, though. When the campaign starts, there's a rush to conquer the many tiny factions scattered across Japan. If you don't take their territory, your allies will. I often found myself racing allied armies to undefended enemy cities. In these situations I would employ Shinobi agents to sabotage allied armies. This would freeze them on the campaign map and give my army the chance to occupy the province that should have rightfully been theirs.

If your Shinobi is good he'll complete the mission and leave no trace. In that case, sabotage isn't an act of war. Your ally might suspect your involvement in their army's difficulty but they'll never be able to prove it. The perfect crime.

Turn the enemy

There are several new agent types to scheme with in Fall of the Samurai. Used them well and you can destabilise enemy provinces and even turn enemy troops to your cause. Imperial factions can recruit Ishin Shishi agents, Shogun players can recruit Shinsegumi. They play very similar roles on the campaign map. They're good agent hunters, can repress rebellions, inspire friendly troops or waltz up to enemy generals and talk them into joining your cause.

It's worth sending one or two agents wandering through the wilderness, converting small enemy forces whenever he can. These turncoats can hang around behind enemy lines, sabotaging resource points and throwing themselves suicidally in front of large enemy forces to slow their progress. Cruel, but effective.

It's worth remembering that some targets are much more precious than others. When you're harassing enemy provinces, you'll want to burn trade ports and advanced resource gathering structures to the ground. Above all, you'll want to target railway stations.

Build railways

Railways are so expensive, and require such a level of infrastructure, that they only come into Fall of the Samurai towards the end of a campaign. If you get a line up and running, you have an enormous advantage. Troops and agents can travel from one end of a route to the other in the space of a single turn.

This will let you respond to invading armies very quickly. More importantly, it'll let you get new units, cannons and gatling guns to your forward forces almost instantaneously. The cannon factories you'll need to build gatling guns have to be upgraded many times and take a long time to build. You're not likely to have many, and they'll probably be tucked away safely in the middle of your empire somewhere. Unless you have a railway, getting these monstrous weapons to your armies can take a long, long time.

If an enemy takes one of the stations along the line, you won't be able to transport troops to any location beyond that station. As you'd expect. Trashed stations are very expensive to repair as well, so you'll want to make sure they're well guarded. Conversely, you'll want to break enemy stations at every opportunity, using bombardment, agent sabotage, or ordinary troops.

Look after your Generals

Fall of the Samurai's campaign spans a relatively short amount of time, which means you won't get the problem that could crop up in larger Total Wars like Empire, when leaders tended to die of old age on the eve of an important battle. In this expansion, your generals be there until the end, as long as you keep them out of trouble.

With each battle they survive, your generals will gain experience. As they level up you can buy advances from their personal skill tree, improving their ability to command in the field, or turning them into masterful siege warriors that excel in defensive situations. Keeping your leaders safe in battle can be a delicate business. Their "rally" and "inspire" abilities are tremendously useful for those moments when you need to give nearby a troops a much needed morale boost, but generals must stay close to the front lines to use them. Keep spearmen at your leader's flanks to protect from enemy cavalry attacks and equip give his bodyguard revolvers when you can. This will let these elite warriors deal damage from a short distance, just out of harm's way.

The campaign map is almost as treacherous as combat for your brave generals. Enemy Shinobi can assassinate them outright, and high level Geisha can woo them away from your cause. Use your own agents to counter these threats. Install your own Geisha in your biggest armies to keep morale high, and counter Shinobi with Shinsegumi, Ishin Shishi and Foreign Veterans.

Guns are great

Archers can compete for a time, but in the end, guns will win out. If you're used to meatgrinder melees then the stand-offish art of mid-range gun combat can seem a little odd, but the rules are simple. Focus fire on weaker units to break them quickly, this will have a negative impact on troops near the fleeing unit. It's hard to stand and fire when your friends have turned around and started running for the nearest pub.

Royal Marines, US Marines and infanterie de marine units are very powerful. They're very accurate, reload quickly and can even put on a good show when they go toe to toe. They're well drilled, too, which means they're less likely to break. If you get the opportunity to recruit these chaps through international trade ports, you won't regret it. Shogunate Guard and Imperial Guard are good all-round gunners, and support these quality elite troops very well.

When you can, grab the high-level "kneel and fire" ability. This will train the front rank of a unit of gunners to take a knee while firing, bringing more guns to bear on your oncoming foe. Wait until the foe is just entering rifle range, throw down some artillery and enjoy the spectacle as your troops mow down the enemy army. In the face of all that gunpowder, the Samurai were doomed to fall.

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